In Alabama (or any state, for that matter), if you've had your property damaged or destroyed as a result of someone else's careless or intentional action, you could be considering bringing a civil lawsuit over what happened. If so, it's important to understand the statute of limitations as it applies to property damage lawsuits.
In case you're not familiar with the term, a "statute of limitations" is a state law that affects a potential plaintiff's right to file a lawsuit, by putting a strict limit on how much time can pass before they must get the case started in court. Every state has these laws on the books, with different time limits depending on the kind of case being filed.
In this article, we'll explain the property damage lawsuit filing deadline in Alabama, the consequences of missing the deadline, and the (rare) situations in which the time limit might be extended.
In Alabama, whether your potential case involves damage to real property (your house or your land, for example) or personal property (including damage to vehicles), it must be filed within six years, according to Code of Alabama section 6-2-34.
Specifically, this law sets a six-year filing deadline for "actions for any trespass to real or personal property." Here, "trespass" refers to any infringement of the property owner's rights to possession and enjoyment of his or her property (it doesn't only refer to unlawful entry onto land).
So, if a homeowner wants to bring a lawsuit for physical damage to the exterior of his/her house after a car crashes into it, that case must be brought within six years in Alabama. The same goes for a vehicle damage lawsuit after a car accident. In both situations, the statute of limitations "clock" usually starts ticking as soon as the property owner becomes aware (or should have become aware) that someone else caused damage to his or her property.
What happens if the six-year time window has closed but you try to file your Alabama property damage lawsuit anyway? In that case, it's a safe bet that the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will file a legal motion asking the court to dismiss your lawsuit, based on the missed deadline. And the court is certain to grant the dismissal unless rare circumstances make an extension of the deadline appropriate (more on this in the next section). If that happens, you've essentially lost your right to any legal remedy for your damaged property. That's why it's crucial to pay attention to and comply with the Alabama statute of limitations as it applies to property damage claims.
For most kinds of civil lawsuits in Alabama -- including property damage claims -- a number of situations could effectively extend the six-year lawsuit filing deadline as laid out in the statute of limitations.
If the property owner is under a legal disability at the time the damage occurs (in Alabama, that means he or she is under the age of 19 or has been declared insane), the six-year clock doesn't start running until the disability ends (meaning the property owner turns 19 or is declared sane). Note that the filing deadline won't be extended for more than 20 years for reasons related to a legal disability in Alabama. This rule can be found at Code of Alabama section 6-2-8.
Another opportunity to extend the deadline may exist if the defendant is absent from the state of Alabama for any period of time after the property damage occurs. In that situation, the period of the defendant's absence probably won't be counted as part of the six-year period. (Code of Alabama section 6-2-10.)
Other circumstances may affect the computation of the Alabama statute of limitations. If you've got questions about the statute of limitations as it applies to your potential property damage lawsuit -- especially if the filing deadline is fast approaching -- an experienced Alabama attorney will have the answers. Learn more about Finding an Excellent Lawyer.